By Anne Lamott
"Life with most teenagers was like having a low-grade bladder infection. It hurt, but you had to tough it out," writes Anne Lamott in her seventh novel, Imperfect Birds. Lamott's latest installment about her long-running mother-daughter pair, Elizabeth and Rosie Ferguson, as they grapple with multiple A-list issues — addiction, authority, autonomy and approval — will no doubt provide solace to many more. Rosie is the bright kid who lost her father in a drunken accident at age 4 in Lamott's second novel, Rosie. She resurfaced on the Northern California junior tennis circuit as a 13-year-old being stalked by a possible pedophile in Crooked Little Heart. Now, at 17, she's an A student on the last lap of her marathon to a prestigious college, but she's giving her worried mother and stepfather conniptions over drugs, the lies they keep catching her in, and how hard it is to recognize that they all need help.
336 pages, $15, Riverhead Books
Spoken From The Heart
By Laura Bush
Laura Bush probably would have gotten higher approval ratings than her husband, George W. Bush, had anyone wanted to poll the question in 2008. On TV, the first lady came across as well-read, forthright and loyal to her husband and her country. And so she is in her autobiography, Spoken from the Heart. It takes Laura Welch from her childhood in Midland and El Paso, Texas (where her dad sold auto financing and built homes), through college years and work as a teacher and librarian, a whirlwind romance with "Midland's most eligible bachelor," and finally to life among one of America's most prominent families and her years in the post-Sept.-11 White House. Bush is a good storyteller, if prone to casting people and events in black and white: public disaffection or media criticism of the Bush men is invariably described by her as unfair and unfounded, and she spotlights the surge in Iraq as evidence of the president's unwavering belief in his actions.
464 pages, $18, Scribner
Packing For Mars: The Curious Science Of Life In The Void
By Mary Roach
A mission to land humans on Mars would take a minimum of two years from liftoff to homecoming, but the most difficult engineering problem isn't how we get there — it's what we do on the way. In Packing For Mars, Mary Roach writes about the challenges of sending the glitch-prone human body into space. She would know: As part of her research, Roach flew aboard the "vomit comet," NASA's zero gravity flying laboratory. "Particularly with a long-term mission," she tells Tony Cox, "you have a tremendous amount of bone loss." Even simple acts like eating, crossing the room or going to the bathroom can suddenly become incredibly difficult. Boredom is another serious factor. "The scenery doesn't change; you can't go out for a walk," Roach says. And though some astronauts are pushing for beer in space, zero gravity makes carbonation tricky and prevents burping. According to Roach, "it's very uncomfortable."
336 pages, $15.95, W.W. Norton & Co.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
By Daniel H. Pink
Most of us believe that the more money employees get, the more motivated they'll be, and the better they'll perform. But in his new book, Drive, Daniel H. Pink says that's not true. "There's a lot of research that shows that if you apply contingent, external rewards on something that's inherently interesting, you can actually extinguish someone's interest in that activity," Pink tells Madeleine Brand. He also shows how some employers encourage high performance through intrinsic motivation and autonomy, even in jobs typically considered low-skilled, such as customer service call centers. At Zappos, the online shoe retailer, for example, "they don't time the calls. ... The representatives don't have scripts. Now this seems insane in the world of call centers. Lo and behold, Zappos is one of the top-rated customer service firms," Pink says.
272 pages, $16, Riverhead Books
Operation Mincemeat: How A Dead Man And A Bizarre Plan Fooled The Nazis And Assured An Allied Victory
By Ben MacIntyre
Early in 1943, Allied forces were massing along the coast of North Africa, preparing to make a push toward strategically important Sicily, but they needed to convince the Germans that they were aiming somewhere else. The result was the very odd, very successful deception that historian Ben MacIntyre describes in Operation Mincemeat, in which the dead body of a Welsh laborer who had died from eating rat poison was equipped with false papers, and dropped where the Germans would find it. If that sounds like something out of a spy thriller, it may be because the idea came originally from Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, in his early days as an assistant to the head of British Naval Intelligence. Fleming admitted freely that he had lifted the idea from a detective novel he once read. "That's why I love this story," MacIntyre says. "It starts in fiction, and in a way it really is a case of somebody just imagining their way into reality."